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August 27, 2008 7:09 AM

Microsoft helps gamers register to vote, express political preference on Xbox Live

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

Add civic engagement to the ever-growing list of video, gaming and communication offerings on Microsoft's Xbox Live network. As the Democratic National Convention continues this week, the company is ramping up a partnership with Rock the Vote that gives Xbox Live members information about the presidential candidates and help registering to vote.

"Youth today is connected with each other in these social communities, playing on Live," said Marc Whitten, general manager of Xbox Live. "This was a great way to continue that engagement [of Rock the Vote]."

Xbox Live has more than 12 million members around the world. The majority are in the United States, Whitten said, but he would not disclose an estimate of how many are eligible to vote.

Rock the Vote began in 1992 as an effort to bring young people into the political process. It started with high-profile musicians and that remains a major feature of the effort. But the organization has also been quick to embrace the technologies captivating its target audience.

The Rock the Vote site within the Xbox Live network has downloadable Gamerpics, which can be added to an individual's Xbox Live profile, in support of Barrack Obama or John McCain, the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominees, respectively. There's also voter registration information and Rock the Vote videos.

Banner ads on the Dashboard -- the central hub of Xbox Live -- will point people toward the Rock the Vote content. After downloading the "I registered" pic, members will get voter registration information via e-mail.

"It's not about trying to get people to enter a whole bunch of text on the console. That's not really what the console in the living room is great at. It's great at exposing you to visual information and helping you find out about stuff," Whitten said.

This is the first feature of Xbox Live -- primarily an entertainment service -- that would fall under the category of civic engagement, Whitten said. But he noted that there are other features that aren't just about entertainment. People communicate via instant-messaging or in-game chats with their families and organize virtual church group meetings inside games played over the service, Whitten said.

"It seemed like the type of things that we could start imagining. What would 12 or 13 million people in the living room connected through this social network on the TV think about doing?" he said.

The effort extends to a presence for Xbox Live at both the Democratic and Republican conventions, and on into election season.

An Xbox Live presidential poll is planned for Sept. 9 to 14. The site will also participate in a registration drive Sept. 23.

It will also help people go through the voting process. "Voting is Easy," the site says, reminding people to register on time (30 days before an election in Washington, or 15 days if you go in person to your county elections department).

"Remember to Vote!," it continues. "... Be sure to set aside time to go to the polls. Your Xbox 360 will be there when you get back."

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